Problematic Problems


Nothing is as insidious as staring so intently at a problem that the solution is obscured.

too-focusedBack in my IT guru era, I once wasted an entire day staring at a single line of code trying numbly to figure out why the program was misbehaving. It was a simple syntax error (switching between Pascal and C can be tricky), but the problem was about my looking for logic errors when the more simple and likely syntax mistake was staring back at me.

Marketers have wasted a lot more than a day by doing the same thing.

Long ago, I had a near-client who insisted that the right go-to-market strategy for his company was 100% commitment to social media marketing. He came by this conclusion due to the success of another person who marketed a different technology using the same approach. The problem was that the successful person was selling to techies – coders, IT admins and the like – while my near-miss client was selling to the C-suite. Two different audiences, two different consumers (and non-consumers) of social media. Yet he was so focused on his “solution” that he didn’t understand the problem, namely how his target audience consumed information.

This is a macro case, but the field of marketing mistakes is littered with micro cases as well. I helped my friend Ray Zinn with the marketing of his forthcoming book Tough Things First. The digital marketing team wanted to do a series of email blasts from rented lists. But as we drove through the numbers, we discovered that we would lose money on every book sale. Had we not done our homework, the expense would have been a nearly utter waste. Yet, some folks were very intent on email marketing.

There are a few discrete steps in not making myopic marketing mistakes:

Broaden your scope to see all targets: What you think is the right target may not be. Review everyone that makes or influences the decision and their motivations. You will often be surprised at how products can be adopted. Linux was dragged surreptitiously into enterprises often without executive knowledge. Only once it had proven value on mundane tasks such as print serving was Linux allowed to run serious apps. It now runs nearly everything. Had you tried back then to sell a CIO Linux, you would have been abruptly escorted off the premises.

Broaden your scope of communications: Once you know your audiences and their motivations, include every conceivable means of promotion, including the ones you think are nuts. Then walk away for two days. When you come back, some approaches that were previously ludicrous suddenly seem viable.

Kill the obvious non-starters: Even after two days some marketing moves will be irrational. Television advertising to promote daffodil seeds would be nonsensical.

Cost-compare all that remains: Lastly, do an honest comparison of the reach and conversion potential of your remaining methods. Email campaigns to a set of rented list derived executives is a bad idea for a business book, though email blasts to LinkedIn followers is not. Determine the goal (awareness building, lead generation, click traffic, etc.), evaluate faithfully, combine (hit buyers from multiple angles) and run a cost minimizing exercise.

Never assume you understand the problem, or know the solution.


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